NSW Sugar Season Wraps Up

In what has been a tumultuous year across the globe, the sugar industry in NSW has successfully
manoeuvred its way through a crush season filled with challenges and opportunities.

Despite the many hurdles presented by the COVID pandemic, the cane growing and harvesting community
of the Northern Rivers has safely and successfully completed harvesting this year’s 1.75 million tonne
sugarcane crop.

The three sugar mills have maintained processing capability and delivered production of just over 200k
tonnes of raw sugar in 2020.

The Condong sugar mill completed a total crush of 519,528 tonnes of sugarcane on the 1st December. The
average CCS for the season was 11.60.

An earlier finish of 20th November at the Broadwater sugar mill saw 661,615 tonnes crushed with a
season average 12.20 CCS.

At Harwood, the mill crushed a total of 562,886 tonnes of sugarcane with a season average 11.87
CCS. Crushing concluded on 3rd December.

Although COVID conditions negatively impacted sales volumes and operating costs, NSW cane growers
will still receive a price advantage over their Queensland counterparts. This is thanks to a focused sales
and marketing effort to maintain margins, financial gains made through a managed hedging program and
positive returns beginning to be realised through Sunshine Sugars diversification projects.

The introduction of the Mercedes Benz fleet over the past 18 months for cane haulage has contributed to
the bottom line by delivering efficiency gains and cost savings in the transport department.

With the news of mill closures at Maryborough and Bingera, it is clear that the sugar industry is doing it
tough.

Sunshine Sugar CEO, Mr Chris Connors says: “Whilst 2020 has been a difficult time for businesses and
communities alike, the local sugar industry has achieved some positive outcomes in pricing and cost
savings. With the recent unrest in the Queensland industry, we need to remain positive and focused on our
core objective of keeping our industry and our growers here in NSW sustainable.”

Elders and Maize Australia working on battling Fall armyworm threat

AS the threat of Fall armyworm continues to trend south, agronomists and industry bodies are exploring ways of limiting the pest’s potential damage.

Elders is among those on the frontlines and has enlisted the help of Toowoomba-based technical services manager Maree Crawford to help find an answer to the increasing threat.

Ms Crawford has so far found that drastic measures have failed to prevent damage, but a more integrated approach was preserving crop yields.

“This pest is a serious threat to some crops and there is a tendency for growers and advisors to overuse synthetic pyrethroids up front and this approach is not proving successful,” Ms Crawford said.

“Elders agronomists address Fall armyworm outbreaks in a very structured way, using an integrated pest management approach based on the individual circumstances.

“You have to take a lot of factors into account, like the weather, the lifecycle stage, the crop species and its risk profile, and the extent of the infestation.”

The research comes after Fall armyworm were discovered in a maize trial plot in Georgetown, northern Queensland in February.

Since then, the pest has been spotted in several locations in Queensland, as well as Hillston, Croppa Creek, Breeza, Forbes, Dubbo, Narrabri, Wee Waa, Maitland, Moree and Boggabilla in NSW.

“If you nuke everything, your not going to have the beneficals to clean up new egg lays and hatchings underneath the leaf where your sprays have failed to reach all of the Fall armyworms,” Ms Crawford said.

 Elders Toowoomba agronomist Matt Kenny checks one of the trapview units being used to monitor for early flights of Fall armyworm. Photo: Supplied

Ms Crawford said once the pest got past the past the 10mm-long third instar stage it was almost impossible to prevent large-scale crop damage and in turn it was crucial for farmers to spray in the evening.

“When they are transitioning from the third to the fourth instar, we find them inside the whorl of the plant,” she said.

“They cover themselves down in the whorl with frass, which is their waste, and the chemical can’t get to that, it just sits on top and doesn’t penetrate them.

“It’s critical to spray in the evening, when the largely nocturnal larvae are out feeding.

“It’s a bit of a concern but I think it is manageable with proactive, vigilant practices and the array of chemistry we’ve got access to, we can manage the pest in most crops and limit the damage.”

The threat has Maize Australia executive officer Liz Mann on high alert and urging growers to be vigilant.

“Fall armyworm is moving south and it is a bit of a concern,” Ms Mann said.

“I think it and other pests may be one of the biggest challenges facing producers this season.

“We know producers are usually right on top of these kinds of things and we’re hoping it won’t be too much of a factor ahead of the summer season.”

Cane farmers told to demolish sheds twice in 30 years to make way for Bruce Highway upgrades

An Edmonton family has been told to vacate sheds on their property for the second time in less than 30 years to make way for upgrades to the Bruce Highway.

Ken Hardwick, 86, knows the price of progress, having farmed cane on the southern outskirts of Cairns for seven decades, taking over the property his father pioneered.

The family property neighbours Bruce Highway, and in the 1990s sheds on the property were demolished and land resumed for highway upgrades.

Less than 30 years later, the Hardwicks are going through the same process.

Mr Hardwick’s daughter, Robyn Mitchell, said they had to move around 2,000 tonnes of equipment into a new set of sheds.

She said the family faced the prospect of losing their cane rail siding, bridges, culverts, and headlands to the new highway upgrade.

“What was resumed this time is actually what we had re-established from the last [land] resumption, and more,” Ms Mitchell said.

“Not only have we lost land to the project, but … we have to re-establish on what was productive cane farming land. So our profitability has taken a bit of a bash.”

An aerial view of a highway passing through flat country with mountains in the background.
The Bruce Highway is undergoing an upgrade from Edmonton to Gordonvale.(Supplied: Department Of Transport And Main Roads)

She said the process of moving equipment had been all consuming.

“It’s been a huge process of getting together the contents of 70 years of farming, getting it packed up and moved offsite,” she said.

“We have quite an extensive workshop that is used every day, so to pack that up means that it’s not usable.

“One of our family members has given up her job because [of] this job of re-establishing.

“Getting compensation is a really big one, it’s not something you can do in a couple of hours.”

Family left thousands out of pocket

The family have until the new year to vacate the sheds.

Ms Mitchell said they would receive compensation for the move, but that what had been offered so far would not cover the cost of rebuilding.

“We have received some compensation, but it has been a very long and arduous process to get to this point and it has been much less than half of what we require to re-establish what we had,” she said.

“It’s based on market value rather than replacement value, so whilst our sheds — which are some 20 years old — are doing a job perfectly well, we go to re-establish those sheds and we have to adhere to a brand new building code.”

She said the family were left out of pocket after the first move in the 1990s, but this time it was far more expensive.

“We were about $100,000 out of pocket because of that … but in comparison to what this particular resumption has cost us it’s not huge.

“This one, so far, has been a lot more expensive.”

A Queensland Transport and Main Roads (TMR) spokesperson said it had negotiated with the Hardwick family in good faith for more than a decade.

TMR said the New Year’s Eve move-out date was the third extension provided to the family.

“In an ideal world, road upgrades would be done without any impact on people’s homes, but unfortunately this is not always possible,” the spokesperson said.

“We acknowledge compulsory acquisition can be a stressful and difficult time for some landowners, and we approach each acquisition with professionalism and compassion.”

MSF Sugar’s Maryborough mill closes down

MSF Sugar’s Maryborough mill has crushed its last cane with the company announcing it was decommissioning the facility.

Instead, contracted sugar cane will be crushed elsewhere from 2021.

The decision comes after Rural Funds Management purchased 5409 hectares of MSF Sugar’s cane growing land in the district earlier this year, with a view to replanting with macadamia nuts.

Canegrowers Maryborough chairman Jeff Atkinson said while the news was disappointing, an agreement between MSF and Isis Central Sugar Mill was advanced for the cane to instead be processed at Childers.

“MSF Sugar has a responsibility to ensure growers are not disadvantaged and that arrangements are made to satisfy its obligations under our current Cane Supply Agreement with the company,” Mr Atkinson said.

“We remain confident that there is a bright future for growing sugar cane in the Maryborough region, and we will engage constructively to ensure that happens.”

Sugar mills crush out for 2020

More than 29 million tonnes of sugar cane has been crushed in Queensland this year with the season set to close this week.

The last bins will be tipped at Mackay Sugar’s Farleigh, Marian and Racecourse mills, signalling an end to the 2020 season.

While weather conditions have varied across growing regions, impacting total yield, this year’s production is up slightly on the 28.4 million tonnes crushed in 2019.

In North Queensland, the last of Wilmar’s eight mills crushed out at the end of November, despite a rain delayed start to the season.

Victoria Mill in the Herbert region processed the last bin of cane on November 29, several hours after the last cane went through the rollers at nearby Macknade Mill.

Wilmar general manager operations Mike McLeod said Wilmar processed 14.925 million tonnes of sugar cane this year, to manufacture more than two million tonnes of raw sugar.

“Our total throughput was slightly down on pre-season estimates due to dry conditions in three of our four milling regions,” Mr McLeod said.

“The Herbert was the exception. The crop grew on from in-season rain and the total volume crushed in the Herbert was 90,000 tonnes above the original estimate.”

Mr McLeod paid tribute to growers, harvesting contractors and Wilmar employees for getting this year’s crop off, despite rain delays and challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the Herbert, 4.25m/t was crushed with an average CCS of 13.2 units. The Burdekin mills processed 7.9m/t (CCS 14.61), Proserpine crushed 1.54m/t (CCS 14.35) and Plane Creek crushed 1.23m/t (CCS 14.23).

Further north, Tully Sugar’s mill crushed out on December 3, after a wet start to the season.

Canegrowers Tully deputy chairman Jamie Dore said just over 2.46m/t of cane had been crushed, which was equivalent to the 10-year average for the region.

“It was very wet at the start and very dry at the finish,” Mr Dore said.

“It was pretty good all round with a lot of crop variability, which was weather related.

“Some had good rain and had good tonnages, and some were well below average in southern areas like Kennedy and Bilyana where the dry affected the crop.”

Mr Dore said CCS averaged 12.96 and the mill had performed well during the season.https://2419ee443a2c2617e832c079593cf995.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

In the Far North, the grower owned Mossman Mill finished their second season running operations after buying the facility back from Mackay Sugar in 2019.

Far Northern Milling director Maryann Salvetti said their 70 growers from the Mossman and Tablelands region had provided over 800,000 tonnes of cane, with the season ending on October 23.

“The weather was very kind to us, the crop was down a little bit mainly because of the dry early in the season on the coast where they don’t have the ability to irrigate, but overall it was a good season,” Ms Salvetti said.

Grower Floor Price Contract

QSL’s new Grower Floor Price Contract is now available within the QSL Direct portal and QSL App.

This new grower-managed pricing option gives QSL growers the best of both worlds – letting them lock in a sugar price with the potential for higher returns should the market rise after their order is filled.

Growers can place orders for as little as 10 tonnes to target a ‘floor’ price and lock in a known minimum return. Once their floor is achieved, they’ll also receive 50% of any subsequent prices achieved above their floor price for the order.

Any nominated tonnage which remains unpriced after 15 April in the year of delivery will automatically default to the QSL Harvest Pool.

AT A GLANCE:

  • Nominations and pricing orders must be a minimum or multiple of 10 tonnes
  • Pricing targets are in gross Australian dollars and $25 increments (e.g. $425, $450, $475)
  • Unfilled orders are automatically cancelled and unpriced tonnage defaults to the QSL Harvest Pool after 15 April in the year of delivery
  • Uses the QSL Grower Floor Contract Price as the basis for its pricing, which incorporates the cost of securing the floor

For further information, please read our Product Overview and Pricing Pool Terms, or contact your local QSL team.